State of the Cubs: Right field

State of the Cubs: Right field

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the 10th installment on the right fielders.

This is the final position in the "State of the Cubs" series and comes the week before the 2019 season begins. Yet the Cubs didn't fill right field with Bryce Harper this winter (as of this writing, no MLB team has, for that matter).

The Cubs right field depth chart is essentially the same it was a year ago, with the addition of Daniel Descalso as the only real change.

Depth chart

1. Jason Heyward
2. Ben Zobrist
3. Ian Happ
4. Daniel Descalso
5. Kris Bryant
6. Mark Zagunis

Heyward is still atop the Cubs depth chart in right field and will see the lion's share of playing time there barring injury. The question is: What kind of impact will Heyward make?

The veteran couldn't top 1.0 WAR either of his first two seasons with the Cubs after inking a $184 million deal before 2016, but he matched that total (2.0 WAR) in 2018 thanks to an improved offensive season.

Heyward certainly took a step forward with the bat last year, but he still wasn't quite league average (98 OPS+) and managed just a .395 slugging percentage, 8 homers and 57 RBI in 127 games despite a .270 average and .335 on-base percentage. He also really had just one good month, as June (.873 OPS) was the only month in which he posted an OPS north of .734 and he hit .248 with a .665 OPS from July 1 on.

Heyward is still an elite defender and baserunner and a valued voice inside the clubhouse, so he warrants a majority of right-field starts on those merits alone. But the Cubs could certainly use a consistently productive Heyward from an offensive end amid an offseason in which the only position player addition was Descalso.

The narrative around Heyward will always be the lofty contract and he remains the highest-paid position player on the Cubs in 2019 ($22.5 million salary), behind only Jon Lester ($27.5 million) among all players. 

In a winter where the Cubs' financial limitations has been far and away the most talked-about topic, outside expectations will always be there for Heyward to produce more than just league-average offensive numbers. But they don't need him to hit in the middle of the order and all signs point to his 2018 offensive uptick as legit, in large part due to a contact rate bordering on the elite (12.3 percent strikeout rate).

However, the Cubs know all too well they need depth behind Heyward, as he's missed more than 70 games the last two seasons with injuries and Joe Maddon may still want to give him a day off here or there against tough left-handed pitchers. Plus, the Cubs have never shied away from using Heyward in center field from time to time.

That's where Zobrist and the others come in. Right now, the 2016 World Series MVP does not have a path to regular playing time at any one position, but Zobrist figures to see plenty of innings in right field, where he started more games (52) than any other position a year ago.

The Cubs will also need to find ways to get Happ's bat in the lineup and of course, Bryant and Descalso can always move to a corner outfield spot if needed. 

Zagunis and a host of other guys — including Johnny Field, Jim Adduci and Zach Borenstein — provide minor league depth should multiple injuries strike the big-league club.

What's next?

Not Bryce Harper. Sure, he's still a free agent and he would obviously make the Cubs a better team, but it's hard to believe the price on the superstar has come down so much to the point where the Cubs could make it work. Then again, crazier things have certainly happened...

The bottom line

Heyward will be battling the sun and wind in right field at the corner of Clark and Addison all season long once again, though his offense will continue to be a storyline.

State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B
State of the Cubs: 3B
State of the Cubs: SS
State of the Cubs: LF
State of the Cubs: CF
State of the Cubs: RF

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Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?

Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?

Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?

You enter under the marquee at Clark and Addison. As you make your way through the concourse, a sliver of bright blue sky is visible through one of the walkways that lead to the seating area. As you climb the stairs, the green hand-operated scoreboard in center field comes into view. As you reach the top of the steps, you look to the outfield and see...nothing but a plain old wall?

For fans entering Wrigley Field prior to 1937, that was the view for those seated in the grandstands looking onto the field. No lush green ivy running from foul pole to foul pole. Just a wall, like every other stadium in the league.

How boring.

Part of what makes the Wrigley Field experience so special is having an outfield that looks different than the 29 other major league ballparks. So, how did it get there? For that, Cubs fans have a former White Sox owner to thank.

RELATED: Ever wonder why the Chicago White Sox wore shorts in 1976?

The origins of the ivy go back almost 90 years. William Veeck was the Cubs president from 1919 until his death in October 1933. During that time, he hired his son, William Jr., who started as a gopher but quickly moved his way up the Cubs organization. Veeck Jr, whom Chicagoans know better as Bill, would go on to buy the White Sox in 1975. He was behind infamous baseball moments like sending 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat in 1951 and Disco Demolition Night in 1979.

In 1937, Veeck gave Cubs fans an early glimpse of his ability to make a splash.

That season, team owner P.K. Wrigley decided to renovate the ballpark that bears his family’s name and make it more of a destination rather than just another baseball stadium. A big part of the upgrade was the addition of the bleachers and the center field scoreboard, which has remained in its spot for the past 83 years.

Wrigley turned to Veeck, tasking him with marketing Wrigley Field with something a little more colorful in front of the bricks supporting the bleachers.

As for the inspiration for the ivy, Veeck credits the home of the Indianapolis Indians, Perry Stadium, which opened in 1931 and had ivy climbing its outfield walls. In his autobiography, “Veeck as in Wreck”, Veeck wrote:

Since I had always admired the ivy-covered...walls at Perry Stadium in Indianapolis

I suggested we appropriate the idea for ourselves.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The ivy remained at Perry Stadium (which was renamed Victory Stadium and Bush Stadium over the years) until the ballpark closed in 1996. The Indians tried to replicate the ivy covered walls at their new park, but team officials were told professional baseball standards now required padded walls 

Wrigley’s walls have been grandfathered into the rules, so they can remain as is. And any attempts to change them requires the approval of the City of Chicago, which added the ivy to part of Wrigley Field’s Landmark Designation.

The ivy also has a special set of rules. If a batted ball goes into it and disappears, the batter (and all runners) are awarded two bases. However, if an outfielder makes an attempt to get the ball out of the ivy, the ball is live (and the outfielder runs the risk of finding not only the ball in play, but others hit there previously).

RELATED: Ever wonder how "Chelsea Dagger" became the Blackhawks' goal song?

But what if Veeck never planted the ivy?

What if in 1937, Mr. Wrigley decided a brick wall was enough. Would the team have kept the walls at their current height and just added pads to them when the league required they do so?  Without landmark status, the Cubs could have decided during subsequent bleacher renovations to lower the height of the walls a couple of feet to allow outfielders to attempt home run-saving catches.

In that case, there would be no need for a basket at the top of the walls. And without one, Javier Baez’ eighth inning shot into the left field basket in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS against the San Francisco Giants isn’t a homer, but a long fly out. And instead of winning that game 1-0, maybe the Cubs lose it.

Maybe that gives San Francisco the momentum they need in the series and they go on and beat the Cubs in the NLDS. Then there is no World Series title and the championship drought is at 111 years and counting.

And that’s a world I just don’t want to live in. And it makes me appreciate the ivy on the walls that much more.

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Union's counter to MLB allows players to opt out of proposed 114-game season

Union's counter to MLB allows players to opt out of proposed 114-game season

The MLB players union sent its proposal for the 2020 season to MLB on Sunday, five days after receiving what they deemed to be an “extremely disappointing” financial proposal from the league.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the union’s proposal includes starting a 114-game regular season on June 30, an uptick from the 82 games the league has proposed. Players would be allowed to opt out of the season, with those considered to be “high risk” (or live with someone who is) for severe coronavirus symptoms getting paid and service time. Those not considered high risk wouldn’t be paid if they opt out but would receive service time.

The league's Tuesday proposal included a sliding scale where the top-earning players would take the biggest pay cuts, while the lowest earners would make close to prorated salaries. That was met with disapproval from the players, who agreed to take prorated salaries in March based on games played and believe that should stand as the lone pay cut for 2020.

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The owners have cited a provision where that agreement can be nullified if games are played without fans this season — meaning significant revenue losses. Fans aren't expected to be in attendance for most, if not all of this season. With the players seeking prorated salaries, playing more games means taking less of a pay cut. 

Under the union's proposal, the regular season would end on Halloween, with an expanded postseason following. MLB proposed adding four playoff teams in 2020 due to the unique nature of the season. The MLBPA, however, is also calling for an expanded postseason in 2021 — the last season of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.  

Financially speaking, MLB’s biggest incentive for the 2020 season is the national TV money brought in during the playoffs. Scheduling the postseason into mid or late November is risky, then, due to a potential second wave of the coronavirus.

The players are also asking for a $100 million advance during the second “spring training,” as well as an offer to receive a $100 million salary deferral if the postseason is cancelled. The deferral would be for players making $10 million or more before salary proration.

Players will need three or four weeks to ramp up before any regular season can begin. As Passan notes, the two sides need to come to an agreement this week for a June 30 Opening Day to be realistic.

RELATED: Why Scott Boras' comments on Cubs suggest optimism MLB, union can make deal

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